As any gay worth their rainbow knows, June is pride month. For the next few weeks our newsfeeds will be flooded with endless iterations of ROY G. BIV inspired products and LGBTQ inclusive advertisements. While it’s extremely tempting to lose ourselves in the rainbows, glitter and flamboyant unicorns, it’s important to consider why companies are marketing to the LGBTQ community.
Do they really care about the interests of queer people or are they simply capitalizing on pride to turn a profit?
It’s no secret that attitudes toward LGBTQ people have changed drastically in recent years. In fact, support for gay marriage among U.S. citizens has risen from 32% in 2002 to 67% in 2018 and 92% of LGBTQ adults say society has become more accepting of them in the past decade. This acceptance of the LGBTQ community has become increasingly reflective in advertisements and companies are now publicly supporting gay rights.
But it’s easy to just slap a rainbow on shoes, shirts or bottles of alcohol for pride. The real question is: where were these companies before supporting queer people benefited their bottom line?
The truth is, “these brands are now feeling like it’s safe and less risky to [support gay rights],” says Jenn T. Grace, an LGBTQ business strategist. “The message it sends is, ‘you weren’t important to us before when it was risky but now, only when it’s safe, we’re willing to put our neck out there and support this community. It could be that it’s the right thing to do…but if it’s not making them money, they wouldn’t do it.”
With the influx of rainbow themed logos and commercials with same-sex partners, it’s not always easy to determine which companies are genuinely supportive of gay rights. Luckily, the Human Rights Campaign developed a reliable way to assess a company’s actual attitude toward LGBTQ people: the Corporate Equality Index (CEI). This index rates American businesses (between -25-100) based on their treatment of LGBTQ employees, consumers and investors. It gives invaluable insight into a company’s true intention when using gay pride to market their products.
Below is an analysis of companies who have used LGBTQ themes to market their products. It’s up to you to decide if they’ve earned it or not!
1) Apple Inc.
In 2014, Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, became the first openly gay CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Since then, Cook has capitalized on his position of power to become a prominent advocate for gay rights. He has publicly condemned the anti-LGBTQ “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” (signed by then Indiana Governor Mike Pence), personally donated a substantial amount of money to gay rights efforts in the south, led about 8,000 Apple employees in San Francisco’s gay pride parade and used his platform, and buzz about the the iPhone X, to advocate for marriage equality in Australia.
Surprisingly, Cook’s support of the LGBTQ community has actually been good for business. His relentless corporate activism, or speaking out on controversial issues largely unrelated to a company’s bottom line, is increasing sales of Apple products. According to researchers at Harvard and Duke, this happens “when CEOs take public stands on controversial issues [because] they can galvanize support for their company from those who share the same viewpoint.”
While Cook has definitely propelled Apple’s fight for equality through his personal commitment to gay rights, the tech company has a long history of supporting the queer community. In fact, few companies have consistently supported the LGBTQ community quite like Apple Inc., formerly known as Apple Computers Inc. In 2002, the year the HRC’s Corporate Equality Index began, Apple was 1 of just 13 companies to earn the highest possible rating (100.) And, every year since, Apple has managed to maintain that perfect score.
Even when the majority of Americans did not support gay rights, Apple prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, provided diversity training in relation to sexuality and gender identity and offered transgender-inclusive insurance coverage.
In the early 1990’s, Apple even refused to build an $80 million office complex in Round Rock, Texas unless their tax-break, which was rescinded due to the company’s pro gay policies, was reinstated. Residents had accused the tech company of “bringing homosexuality into Williamson County” and even took to wearing pins that expressed their disproval of the company’s commitment to equality. In response, Apple said, “that as a matter of both principle and economics the company would not build on the 128-acre site” unless they were reimbursed for the tax-break. Ultimately, the county folded and Apple broke ground on the project in 1994.
In more recent years, Apple has continued to fight for LGBTQ rights by removing anti-gay apps from the iTunes store and supporting a Supreme Court decision, that declared the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional in 2013. After the DOMA decision, the company issued an unequivocal statement of support saying, “Apple strongly supports marriage equality and we consider it a civil rights issue. We applaud the Supreme Court for its decisions today.”
It looks like Apple has earned their right to market to the LGBTQ community! Here is Apple’s latest options for pride.
Target has had a somewhat complicated relationship with the LGBTQ community for the past several years. While their stores proudly display shirts promoting equality and pride, in 2010 Target gave $150,000 to a Republican-friendly political fund, MN Forward, who ran TV ads supporting state legislator Tom Emmer. At that time, Emmer was a vehement opponent of gay marriage who actively worked to support a “constitutional marriage amendment that protects traditional marriage.”